Mikulski On Impact of Sequestration on Prisons

Senator Barbara Mikulski recently spoke on the Senate floor about the impact of sequester on guards in the federal corrections system.

Chairwoman Mikulski said. “You know what sequester will mean? Across-the-board cuts. It will have a direct impact on America’s prisons. Oh, sure, the prisoners will still have their food. They’ll still have their hour to be able to do their exercise. But the prison guards will face furloughs, layoffs and even reductions in the workforce. We’re placing them at risk while they protect us from risk,” The SEnator continued, “I want to cancel the sequester and come up with a balanced solution of revenues and strategic targeted cuts, not across-the-board cuts to 1,300 correctional guards that might face layoffs. We need to be able to have the right law enforcement at federal and state levels to catch the bad guys, whether it’s white-collar crime, like mortgage fraud, or street crime, or despicable things like trafficking women and children.”

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Senator Mikulski’s remarks on the Senate floor, as delivered, follow:
“Today I come to the floor to speak on the impact of sequester on the American people, on their safety, their security, on our economy, and on the way local and state governments can wisely use resources and protect their people.
“I come today not only as the chair of the entire Appropriations Committee but as the chair of the subcommittee that funds the Commerce Department, the Justice Department, and the majority of our science agencies.
“And I wanted to talk about the impact, really, on public safety and our future. But you have to know I come with a heavy heart. I note and bring to the attention of my colleagues that a guard was killed at a federal prison on Monday. This guard worked at the federal penitentiary in Canaan, Pennsylvania. He was stabbed and attacked by a prisoner with homemade weapons. The entire Justice Department, the Office of Prisons, the union people that represent him, we all mourn for Mr. Eric Williams’ death. We don’t know the full extent — and I will be asking for a report on the investigation on how this happened.
“But one of the things I do know as the chair of the Committee, we face prison overcrowding. We have federal prisons, some we don’t even open because we refuse to put the money in. And you can say, ‘Well, Senator Barb, you’re on the Committee. Why don’t you put the money in?’ Well, we’re in gridlock…deadlock…hammerlock. We’re not able to move our bills under regular order, with due diligence and oversight. That’s why we’re in this crisis of sequester.
“Can’t we just cut two percent just like American families? American families don’t run prisons. They don’t build their own roads. They don’t have to put out their own local police department. They depend on their government to do that. They’re willing to expend revenue, pay taxes, so that they are protected. There are reasons people are in federal prisons. They were bad guys and gals who did bad things. And when they’re in prison, they’re still going to do bad things, like attack a prison guard.
“You know what sequester will mean? Across-the-board cuts. It will have a direct impact on America’s prisons. Oh, sure, the prisoners will still have their food. They’ll still have their hour to be able to do their exercise. But the prison guards will face furloughs, layoffs and even reductions in the workforce. We’re placing them at risk while they protect us from risk.
“Where are our national priorities? One of the ways that we can honor this man is to get serious about our appropriations process. I want to cancel the sequester and come up with a balanced solution of revenues and strategic targeted cuts, not across-the-board cuts to 1,300 correctional guards that might face layoffs. And I want to also be aware that there are federal prosecutors. We in Maryland have some of the best U.S. Attorneys going after violent gangs, drug cartels, child predators, mortgage fraud. But we’re going to say to those smart lawyers that could make megabucks in law firms, ‘Oh, stick with us. But when you do, you could be laid off and furloughed.’ Why is it that the criminals are able to hire lawyers but the federal government doesn’t want to pay for them?
“We need to be able to have the right law enforcement at federal and state levels to catch the bad guys, whether it’s white-collar crime, like mortgage fraud, or street crime, or despicable things like trafficking women and children. We have to look out for the FBI, our major force in counterterrorism. They again face layoffs. Sequester will go to our local law enforcement. We will be cutting things like the Byrne Grants, which enable local law enforcement to put cops on the beat and buy equipment that they need to protect themselves. There is a program here that we have as a line-item. It’s not the biggest thing in the federal budget but it’s the biggest thing to cops. Why? Because it buys bullet-proof vests.
“I could talk another 55 minutes. I could talk another 505 minutes. But I want everyone to get the point that cuts have consequences. So platitudes like ‘Why don’t we cut the budget like families do? Let’s do what families do.’ Families, first of all, make plans and stick to them.
“I think it’s time we have a regular order. I want to deal with this sequester now. I want to look at this thing called the Continuing Resolution so we resolve the funding for fiscal year 2013, for fiscal year 2014, to work on a bipartisan basis across the aisle and across the dome. Let’s look at our spending, how we protect the American people and make public investments that help create jobs today and jobs tomorrow. In conclusion, before I turn to my most able subcommittee chair on Homeland Security, Senator Landrieu, I just want to say to the family of officer Eric Williams, the entire Senate wishes to express its condolences to the family.
“And I believe the way we show our deepest sympathy, is to make sure it doesn’t happen in our federal prisons again. Let’s get on and solve the problem of sequester. Let’s work together and get the job done.”

Earlier this month, Chairwoman Mikulski convened a hearing of the full Appropriations Committee on the impacts of sequestration. A webcast of the hearing is available here.

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